Sunday, July 22, 2012

Handling phobias and fear in autism

Giant Cicada Killer wasp: Harmless to humans
This morning I checked my messages to find a question from Jill on Autism and Phobias that read:

I also came across your posting after googling autism phobias. My son recently developed a debilitating fear of bees and dragonflies. I'd be interested to hear what you were able to do to help your child deal with his flying bug phobia. Right now we are not able to spend time outside. As soon as he sees a flying insect he starts screaming uncontrollably. Thank you for sharing your experience with this!

Well, Jill, this post is for your and anyone else wondering that same question.

The ultimate answer to a phobia is intensive therapy, but there are steps to take before going that route.

The first steps I like to take, and they seem to help, is education. My 10 year old son is also afraid of just about any flying insect that he can see. He worries that they all are bees or specifically the Mahogany wasps we have in this area. 

I think the first thing that gets them is that these are speeding objects that are hard to identify and can't be controlled. This sets off a sensory and startle reaction. Once that happens it's a chain reaction the rest of the way and hard to reverse. He will need a great deal of reassurance and comforting. Reassurance that these insects aren't looking for him. And that's where education of these things comes in.

Green Dragonfly: Harmless to humans
There are children's level books on just about every bug you can think of at any library. Get your hands on some and let your child know you would like to teach him with some pictures about the bugs in your own backyard or at the park. If there's resistance, get him to agree that pictures can't hurt and then start teaching him about them. 

Next step, check Toys R Us for bug toys that he can handle and touch. He may balk but show him that it's just rubber and not real. With things like dragonflies it's safer than with things you don't want him to touch, like spiders. 

Make it a game. See how many bugs he can identify as they fly around and tell you about them.

Through is all, it will take time, constant reassurance, patience, support and a loving attitude. With enough of that, he can start to grow out of his fears. 

Similar steps can be used for fear of sounds, like thunder. Teach about it, make it a game, and use lots of hugging and supporting. And he will want to retreat, the first odd number of times, it will be hard to get him to do it. You must not give up. Our kids take a very long time to make changes. If in doubt and absolutely unsure, consult a specialist.

1 comment:

Go Boys said...

Thank you for the post! I will try your suggestions. Your insights are very helpful and much appreciated!